Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for November 1-7

November 1 – November 7


WUTHERING HEIGHTS (November 3, 8:00 pm): It's always challenging to adapt a classic book into a movie, and this 1939 film uses less than half of Emily Bronte's 34 chapters (eliminating the second generation of characters) in the book. But it's still a stunning film directed by one of the true masters, William Wyler. Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as Heathcliff, showing a wide range of emotions in a complicated role. Heathcliff is bitter, vengeful, conflicted and passionately in love. I doubt anyone else could do justice to the role. Merle Oberon as Cathy is also wonderful as are many members of the cast including David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Hugh Williams. 

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (November 3, 3:00 pm): Sit down and get comfortable before watching this three-hour film. A huge ensemble cast of brilliant actors - Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell - and memorable small roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this drama one of the most riveting films made. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. The movie is a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of hundreds of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. You have to decide for yourself if being German during the regime of Adolf Hitler is a war crime. 

INTERNAL AFFAIRS (November 1, 1:30 am): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An undercover cop (Tony Leung) has infiltrated a criminal gang. Meanwhile the gang has placed a mole (Andy Lau) in the ranks of the police force. As both bosses become aware of a spy in their midst, it becomes a race against time to discover who is what before the other side is able. Yes, it’s the plot for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Well, this is the film he lifted it from for his Oscar-winning tale. I’ve seen both and this is far and away the better version: No Jack Nicholson hamming up the screen for one thing. And if you’re expecting the usual non-stop action film, prepare for a change, for character is emphasized over action. In fact, The Departed is a very faithful adaptation. Watching both it seems that only the locale has changed. This is the sort of film that will resonate with you long after you’ve seen it.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (November 3, 12:00 pm): The Saint, a sort of mysterious Robin Hood created by famed mystery writer Leslie Charteris, has been translated into all three major mediums: film, radio, and television. This is the first of the Saint movies, and in my opinion, the best. It’s also the least known, due to the fact it’s almost never shown on television. In this outing, Louis Heyward plays Simon Templar and never since has Templar been played with such smooth rakishness as that with which Heyward plays him. It’s just plain, good, old-fashioned fun as Templar makes baboons of the bad guys and earns the love of the boss’s moll. Try it and see if you don’t agree about Heyward as Templar.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (November 2, 11:45 am)

ED: B. Yeah, yeah, I know. I agree that the film hasn’t exactly aged well, but it’s still entertaining and the performances still solid. We can see the Lancaster-Kerr romance coming a mile away but that doesn’t deter our enjoyment. Pressure from the Army dictated a change for the worse in two important plot points: for one, the Borgnine-Sinatra fracas is now shown to be the result of Borgnine’s sadistic streak and not coming from Army policy, as Jones indicates in his novel. Secondly, in the novel, the cowardly Captain Holmes is promoted to major while in the film he’s given a choice of resignation or court-martial. Director Fred Zinneman could live with the first, noting that it actually helped Sinatra’s character better to die in the arms of his buddy Montgomery Clift, but the second change Zimmerman saw as reducing the film to the level of a recruiting poster. No matter, for it’s a great combination of character and action, with some soap added for extra enjoyment. And it’s always good to see Lancaster in action.

DAVID: C-. The cast is loaded with talented actors - including two of my favorites, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift - and the plot seems like a can't-miss about Army soldiers in Hawaii in the weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The biggest problem with the film is it's just too much. There are too many storylines, there are too many subplots, and there are too many characters. There are films with large ensemble casts of big stars (such as Best Bet Judgment at Nuremberg) that work. The ones that work are better focused films. This one simply doesn't work. After a while, you cut your losses and pay attention to a few of the characters and storylines. While Lancaster was a great actor, and is solid in this film, the love affair with Deborah Kerr is dull. I was extremely disappointed the first time I saw the iconic romance scene on the beach with the waves rushing over them as they kiss in the sand. My immediate thought was, "That's it?" Turns it, yeah, that's it. As Ed mentioned, it hasn't aged well at all. It's predictable, even if you don't including the Pearl Harbor attack. Also, the characters are largely stereotypes of guys you'd expect in the Army: the strong silent type (Lancaster), the cruel officer (Philip Ober), the slob bully (Ernest Borgnine), the sensitive guy with demons in his past (Clift), etc.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cinéma Inhabituel for November 1-14

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

This Cinema Inhabituel is for November 1-14 as I’m undergoing surgery.

November 1
2:30 pm The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (MGM, 1964) – Director: George Pal. Starring: Tony Randall, Barbara Eden, Arthur O’Connell, John Ericson, & Lee Patrick.

George Pal, one of the kings of fantasy cinema, especially back in the day, brings us Tony Randall as a Chinese magician who uses his magical powers to save a Western town. A good story, great acting, and wonderful special effects turn this from just another fantasy film into a film that can be enjoyed by all ages.

November 2

2:00 am Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Diagonal Pictures, 1991) Director: Ngai Choi Lam. Starring Siu-Wong Fan, Mei Sheng Fan, & Ka-Kui Ho.

One of the goriest mainstream movies ever made, this Hong Kong/Japanese collaboration concerns a super-powered, though innocent youth who takes revenge on the criminals that killed his girlfriend during a botched rape. He’s thrown into the typical prison of filmdom: corrupt guards, evil warden, mistreated inmates, and escape attempts galore. The dialogue is terribly written, the acting almost non-existent (with really cheesy dubbing), and the sets are the other side of unbelievable. Yet, for all that, it’s fun to watch, probably because it is so bad. The gore seems to be excessive to take our attention from the other glaring deficits. If gore is your thing, and you like Hong Kong product, this is the film for you.

3:45 am The Sword of Doom (Toho, 1996) Director: Kihachi Okamoto. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, & Yuzo Kayama

Samurai films can be called Japan’s Westerns. Because there have been so many samurai films made over the years, plot material is beginning to wear thin. In this one, sociopathic samurai Ryunosuke is offered the virtue of his opponent’s wife if he agrees to throw a fencing match. Naturally, he accepts, but kills his opponent. The victim’s brother trains with a master fencer for a grudge match, but the question remains of whether he will get to him in time, for Ryunosuke has also cheesed off the band of assassins he travels with and they just might beat the brother to the punch.

November 4

2:30 am Lola (Rialto Film, 1981) Director: Reiner Werner Fassbinder. Starring Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, & Mario Adorf.

Fassbinder’s social satire is set in Germany 10 years after the war and takes place in an unnamed city rife with corruption. Enter Herr von Bohm, a progressive, but also strenuously upright, building commissioner. He becomes taken with his landlady’s daughter, not knowing that she’s also Lola, a singer at a local bordello and mistress of a local builder whose profits are dependent on von Bohm’s findings. Think of The Blue Angel with The Rules of the Game thrown in. Now consider that Fassbinder directed it and you have something to see. Unlike anything else you’ve seen on the subject.
November 5

12:45 am The Story of Temple Drake (Paramount, 1933) Director: Stephen Roberts. Starring Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan, Jack LaRue, & Florence Eldridge.

Next to Baby Face, this is the most notorious of the Pre-Code films and the stronger of the two. This adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel, Sanctuary, stars Hopkins as Temple Drake, a flirtatious Southern belle forced into a bootlegger’s mansion after a car wreck nearby. There she is held prisoner and raped by Trigger (LaRue) one of the bootlegger’s gunmen after he kills her escort. When he tries to rape her again she shoots and kills him, ending up in court. But after all that, there is a happy ending to the tale and Temple is vindicated. This film was not run on television for many years, and I saw it back in the 70s at a NYC revival theater. Since then I have seen it only once on TCM, so catch this while you can.

November 9

3:15 am Burn, Witch, Burn (AIP, 1962) Director: Sydney Hayers. Starring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Kathleen Byron, & Margaret Johnston

This is the old chestnut about the skeptical college professor whose wife turns to witchcraft in order to advance his career. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, who wrote so many wonderful and memorable Twilight Zone episodes, wrote the screenplay, which is based on Fritz Leiber’s novel, Conjure Wife. Though it’s been done before by Universal in 1944 as Weird Woman, and starring Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gynne and Evelyn Ankers (as the villain of the piece), this is a definite improvement given the screenplay, the solid acting, particularly by Wyngarde, and the cinematography. Again, it’s rarely shown and worth watching. 

November 10

6:30 am The Exterminating Angel (Producciones Gustavo Alatriste, 1962) Director: Luis Bunuel. Starring Silvia Pinal, Enrique Rimbal, & Claudio Brook.

Bunuel’s surrealist satire on the upper class concerns a dinner party from which no one leaves. After a while we realize that they cannot physically leave; they are trapped in the room. We then see the breakdown of the moral and cultural fiber as people used to drinking only the finest champagne and smoking expensive cigars are reduced to basic survival, hacking through the wall to find a water pipe and eating paper to stave off their hunger. They suddenly discover what they have taken for granted is the necessary sustenance of the lower classes. It’s probably Bunuel’s best satire, directed with his usual seriousness.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pitch Perfect

Dinner and a Movie

It’s Pitch Perfect at Vitae

By Steve Herte 

As Helene always said, "Go to movies (or through life) expecting nothing. Then, you're never disappointed." But sometimes you are pleasantly surprised or even delighted, which happened on both counts. I was moved almost to tears by both the cinema and the dinner (I actually felt like Anton Ego in Ratatouille), such were the experiences. 

Pitch Perfect (Universal, 2012) Director: Jason Moore. Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, John Benjamin Hickey, Adam DeVine, and Rebel Wilson.

Why do people go to a movie theater these days when it’s definitely cheaper to download, rent or even buy the DVD? Is it the big screen, the popcorn, junk food and occasionally reclining seats? Maybe you enjoy having your seat kicked, being with others who text or chat throughout a film, or smelling some dreadful concession-stand concoction being eaten by someone without taste buds. For me, the movies are an escape from reality. That’s why I choose so many animated films and enjoy mostly sci-fi and horror with only a sprinkling of movies without special effects. Pitch Perfect is one of these.

Before deciding on Pitch Perfect I watched trailers and they showed promise of entertainment, the second reason I go to movies. The basic story here is one we’ve heard before. The daughter, Beca (Kendrick) wants to go to L.A. and become a DJ or radio announcer, mixing songs for her listeners, but her father (Hickey) wants her to go to college and learn to “make something of herself.” (familiar, no?) Concurrent with this story is the struggle of the Barden Bellas, the only all-female of four a capella groups on campus – two are coed, one all-male (The “Treble-Makers”) – in attaining the championship at the Lincoln Center finals for college a capella groups. The Bellas have just suffered a serious set-back as a result of their lead singer and anal organizer’s projectile vomiting over the first three rows of the audience during their performance (which, by the way, was the only time the audience got interested). They were reduced from 10 to two and need to rebuild their numbers with the incoming freshmen to redeem themselves. Sub-plot to these is the budding romance between Beca and Jesse (Astin), also a freshman. He joins the show-off, self-centered and repeat championship-winning Treble-Makers and she is eventually cajoled into auditioning for and joining the Bellas.

Beca establishes herself as a talented individual by not singing the “chosen” audition song, but instead sitting on the stage accompanying herself by tapping and turning a large drink cup – an amazing performance in itself. She does not endear herself to Chloe (Snow), who is used to getting her own way, even if it destroys the group’s chances of winning. It’s interesting to watch the Bellas overcome the differences in their new configuration. One is Fat Amy (Wilson) – “I call myself that to keep others from calling me that behind my back.” – who sings up a storm but adds a sexual slant Chloe doesn’t approve of. Another is Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), an adorable Asian girl who speaks so softly no one can hear her. And still another is Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), a black girl with hair dyed scarlet who comes off more male than female at the audition. Together they go through many clashes and harmonies before sharing secrets and making the necessary compromises to become a cohesive whole.

Meanwhile, the Treble-Makers lose their extremely conceited lead singer Bumper (DeVine) when an offer comes from Hollywood to be a “background” singer to some famous artist. This is Jesse’s chance to lead and his buddy Benji (Platt) achieves his dream of joining the group (he was rejected off-hand by Bumper from the first).

Beca and Jesse have a rocky start to their relationship until he convinces her to watch the film Breakfast Club all the way through. It is then she understands: She has been pushing people away who want to get into a relationship with her and it’s now time for a change. She’s so influenced by the movie that she incorporates the song “Don’t You Forget about Me” into the Bellas’ competition medley.

Pitch Perfect is an interesting movie with a lot of good singing and teen angst. The acting by Snow and DeVine stand out because, if you can make the audience dislike you, you’re doing it right – and they both succeed at that. Several slang terms are used in the film, so it helps to be up on the latest jargon (there were some I never heard, so I missed a joke or two). Also used are music-speak terms like “acca-excuse me?” and “toner” used to describe a musical boner (yes, you get the drift). There are several laughs and even a gross-out scene where Lilly falls onto her back on a flood of Chloe’s vomit and starts making vomit angels on the floor.

However, the final competition is what the audience is waiting for. The Treble-Makers do an energetic, dynamic, and seemingly unbeatable medley of songs, but the Barden Bellas (now a totally different singing group from the one at the outset) create a hurricane of sound and dazzle the audience with a breathtaking performance! I was feeling tired at the end. If my former chorus performed like they did, I would never have left them.

Whatever you do, do not discount Pitch Perfect as a mere chick-flick. Stay to the end. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

4 East 46th Street (5th Avenue), New York City

This seven-month-old addition to “Little Brazil” breaks up the favela with American cuisine and eclectic preparation. The attractive menu items online and the unique décor lured me to one of the 16 tables in the main dining area. Surrounding the deep green banquettes and polished, bare-wood topped tables are half walls of linked, aluminum-colored arabesques on an off-white background that lead up to tinted glass mirror blocks stacked on the wall like bricks. From these, cone-shaded sconces hang in a random pattern. The black and white flooring reflects the chicken-wire effect on the walls, leading to an overall sense of being in a large fisherman’s net. At the back of the restaurant is a black stairway leading to the private dining area supported by twin fans of steel rods looking almost like the bridge on the “Big Dig” in Boston. Combined with the room, the stairway adds a lobster-pot-like entrance. Overhead, the ceiling has an amoebic cutout that offers more soft lighting to the room.

After checking my jacket, hat and bag and receiving the number “1” (several tables were occupied already), I was seated at the first table in the main area and given the cocktail menu, the wine list and glass of water. Having not been to Trader Vic’s Restaurant in the Plaza Hotel since 1987 (it was closed by Donald Trump in 1989) I chose the Trader Vic Mai Tai, Appleton Estate V/X Rum, Depaz Amber Rum, Lemon Hart 151 Rum, House Curacao, House Orgeat (an almond-based syrup) and lime juice over ample ice, topped with a violet orchid and a spring of mint. It brought back fond memories.

My beautiful raven-haired waitress, Wendy, explained the food menu. It was divided into appetizers and soups on the left fold, prix-fixe alternatives in the center (with sides below it), and pastas (half-orders available) and main courses on the right. My starter was “Shrimp Toast” – two slices of baguette toasted with ground shrimp and accompanied by a square bowl containing Sepia (cuttlefish), Crab, baby Mussels and Sea Urchin with strips of cucumber in a beautiful deep green Ocean Broth – not your traditional shrimp toast from your local Chinese take-out. The various seafoods were tender and delicious and the broth an amazing flavor, only slightly salty. Using the homemade rolls (served in their own square cast-iron pan, on a slate hot plate), I mopped up every drop.

The wine list was diverse and a bit on the high-priced side, but I found an excellent 2007 Chinon Rouge from the famous Loire Valley, which accented every dish nicely. The next course was a half order of Cavatelli – with delicate Rabbit Meat, Olives, Grape Tomato halves, Pearl Onions, Pine Nuts, and (of course) cheese – an ambrosial combination obviously meant to bring strong men to their knees. Thank goodness I was seated.

I had chosen the main course while viewing the menu online. Not since the Wellington Grill at the Drake Hotel have I had such excellent Beef Wellington – Angus Beef with Balsamic Onions, Chive Pommes Purée (an asparagus-green potato miracle) and Parisian carrots (little tender orange domes) – medium well, juicy and wrapped in flaky pastry dough. It was excellent, but I suggested that the liver paté missing between the pastry and the beef might have added another level of flavor. Wendy noted this. The Brussels Sprouts (the only misspelling on the menu) and Bacon as a side dish were not overcooked, but another beautiful shade of green, and crunchy, and the Lardons (not really bacon) were delightful.

Not once, but twice per course, was I asked how everything was – an indication of a restaurant that cares. The rolls were served without butter or oil and they didn’t need any. Salt and pepper sellers were not in evidence either and were not needed as well.

For the third or fourth time this year (D.C., Philly, New York) I’ve had S’Mores for dessert. These were a milk chocolate mousse on a tender graham cracker and topped by a cinnamon marshmallow surrounded by a sticky chocolate and marshmallow cream sauce – wonderful! Then, after a double espresso and a delicious glass of 2008 Verdicchio Passito from Santarelli vineyards I was ready for the weekend. As the Spanish say, Estoy Vivir at Vitae! (This is living!)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Son of the Border

By Ed Garea

Son of the Border (RKO, 1933) Director: Lloyd Nosler. Starring: Tom Keene, Julie Haydon, Edgar Kennedy, Lon Chaney Jr., Al Bridge, Charles King, & David Durand.

There are few things more enjoyable than a ‘30s B-Western, unless it’s a ‘40s Monogram or PRC Western. This one comes from RKO and stars Tom Keene, RKO’s cowboy star at the time. I love Tom Keene Westerns because (1) Tom couldn’t act; and (2) he wound up starring in Plan 9 From Outer Space (as Col. Edwards), as well as co-starring with The Bowery Boys in their 1956 epic Dig That Uranium! So we know that Tom’s B to Z creds are in order. An added bonus is the chance to catch the early Lon Chaney Jr., when he was working under the moniker Creighton Chaney.

The plot is simple: Rancher Tom Owens (Keene) is a force of good to be reckoned with in his little town. He’s after a stagecoach robbing gang, led by a baddie named Henchey (Bridge). He’s shocked (Shocked!) when he learns that his good friend Jack Breen (Chaney) is a dues-paying member of that very gang. He pulls Jack aside and tells him that if Tom were he, he’d beat it out of town, if he gets the drift. Good advice, but does Jack listen? Not on your life, otherwise we have no movie. And Jack is soon at it again, this time holding up a bank. But during the getaway Tom is forced to shoot Jack and kills his friend. Jack manages to conveniently die in the arms of his fiancée, former saloon girl Doris (Haydon), who encouraged Jack in his career choice. This earns Tom the everlasting hatred of Doris, who holds Tom entirely responsible. And she’s out for revenge.

In the meantime, the late Jack’s orphan brother, Frankie (Durand) arrives on the afternoon stage from Phoenix looking for big brother. He’s naturally devastated when he learns of his brother’s death. Tom takes charge of the lad and brings him to his ranch where, with the help of his trusted sidekick Windy (Kennedy) he teaches the boy about ranch life. But when young Frankie runs into Doris one day in town, she uses the opportunity to educate the lad all about his brother, regaling him with stories. Tom sees what’s going on and tells her to bug off, but she retorts that if he tries to keep her away, she’ll tell young Frankie all about Jack’s killing. Tom replies something to the effect of “So when is a good time for you to see Frankie?”

Cut to Tupper, the town’s friendly ticket agent. He’s revealed to us as the silent leader of the gang and tells Henchey to whack Tom in order to facilitate their gang’s planned robbery of the next stagecoach. Henchey naturally fails in his attempt. Tim, tired of Doris making his life miserable, decides to send Frankie back to Phoenix and buys a ticket for the very coach Tupper plans to rob. But Doris learns via the grapevine that Tupper plans to murder everyone on the coach and rushes to tell Tom. He sends her to get the sheriff while he and Windy intercept the bad guys and lead the coach to a town on the Mexican border, where they get into a shootout with the villains. Doris is wounded protecting Frankie and Tom, and Tom settles matters by killing the gang members and tossing Tupper through a window. Tom and Doris bury the hatchet and agree to take joint responsibility for raising Frankie. The end.

What’s even better is that all this takes place in only 55 minutes. Chaney, for his part, proves to be just as wooden as a young man as he was later in life. I also noticed that he always seemed to look regretful, whether at age 30 or 65. Kennedy as Windy the sidekick gives a decent performance. When I look at the portly Kennedy in the role I can only assume that he got that nickname because his favorite meal is beans. But there is zero chemistry between Keene and Kennedy, odd for a hero and sidekick. Haydon, who plays Chaney’s girlfriend Doris, scores in the looks department, but she’s even more wooden than Chaney. I loved the line that the crowd at the saloon misses her as a dance girl and attendance has gone down since she left, leading us to think she was doing something other than dancing.

If you’re looking for nonstop action and laughs galore, you just can’t beat a film like this. It’s the type of film one runs at a gathering and does an MST-like session with friends. It makes the time pass ever so well and can be a bonding experience if bad films are your thing. 

Postscript: This movie is so obscure that you can't order it on Amazon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Once Upon a Time


Once Upon a Time

By Steve Herte

(Kitsis/Horowitz & ABC Studios, 2011-present) ABC-TV, 8:00 pm Sunday

Having become an avid fan of this fantasy/drama over the course of its riveting first season, I am more than ready to find out what happens in the second, and Once Upon a Time is still delivering. However, one needs a scorecard to keep track of all the characters.

In the first season we learned that Regina, the Evil Queen in the Snow White story, obtained the means from a just-as-evil Rumplestiltskin to cast a spell over the entirety of fantasy land and banish all of the inhabitants to Storybrooke, a small town in Maine, USA (I wonder if Stephen King knows where this town is?). In Storybrooke everyone has new identities. They do not remember who they really are (except for Regina and Rumplestiltskin) and cannot leave the town limits. Also, the town clock has stopped forever and magic is unavailable. This is Regina’s attempt at achieving her own happy ending and depriving everyone else of theirs.

Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla) is mayor of Storybrooke and Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is now Mr. Gold (since he could spin straw into gold, remember?) and runs the local antiques-cum-pawn shop in town. Snow White is now Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin), a schoolteacher. Prince James (Charming) is now David Nolan (Josh Dallas). He is married to Kathryn Nolan (Anastasia Griffith), who was formerly betrothed to a man unfortunately turned to gold by King Midas (Alex Zahara).

Then it gets complicated.

Enter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) who is just passing through from Boston and doesn’t know that she’s actually Snow White’s and Prince Charming’s daughter, and who was saved from the evil spell by a magic wardrobe carved by Geppetto (Tony Amendola) who is now Marco. She also doesn’t know that the son she gave up for adoption is Henry Mills (Jared Gilmore) who resides with Mayor Mills as her son – named after Regina’s father, Henry (Tony Perez) – who had to die by her hand so that the evil spell would work.

Henry has a big, illustrated storybook from which he figures out whom everyone in town really is, including Emma, and convinces her to stay because, “You’re the only one who can break the spell.” And indeed, at the end of the first season, she does exactly that, with the kiss of true love, to bring Henry back to life after he ate an apple turnover baked by Regina (Never eat apple products from the Evil Queen!), which was meant for Emma.

Over the course of the first season, Once Upon a Time gives explanations for various fairy tale characters and their outlook on life. Regina’s hatred of Snow White resulted from, while a child, Snow White (Bailee Madison) failed to keep the secret of Regina’s true love from her mother, Cora (Barbara Hershey) who uses magic to kill him.

Rumplestiltskin’s evil becomes his choice to gain power when he’s branded as a powerless coward and loses his son Baelfire (Dylan Schmidt) and his true love, Belle (Emilie de Ravin).

We meet the eight dwarves: Stealthy (Geoff Gustafson) is killed trying to escape King George’s (Alan Dale) castle with Snow White; Doc (David-Paul Grove), Sneezy (Gabe Khouth), Bashful (Mig Marcario), Happy (Mike Coleman), Sleepy (Faustino Di Bauda), Dopey (Jeffrey Kaiser), and Grumpy (Lee Arenberg). Grumpy’s doomed love affair with the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) is the reason he’s so grumpy and was an episode in itself.

The luckiest actor is Giancarlo Esposito, who falls in love with Regina as the genie from Aladdin’s lamp, is given one wish and chooses to be forever looking at her, becoming the Magic Mirror. In Storybrooke, he runs for sheriff against Emma as Sidney Glass, newspaper reporter. (The Daily Mirror – get it?) The position became open when Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), aka The Huntsman from the Snow White story, was killed by Regina when he falls in love with Emma.

There is no lack of special effects in Once Upon a Time. Prince Charming gets to kill a dragon. Emma also gets to battle and kill a dragon, but this time it’s really Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty story. Prince James and Snow White try to bargain with and eventually destroy a group of trolls guarding a bridge. Red Riding Hood, as well as Granny, is a werewolf, and so that story is explained neatly.

In the second season, everyone in Storybrooke knows who they are and Regina almost becomes the victim of a lynch mob. But, reunited with Belle, Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) brings magic back to the already confused town and with it, a Soul-Sucker (Wraith), intended to kill Regina. However, Jefferson (Sebastian Stan) aka The Mad Hatter gets his magic hat working to open a portal into fantasy land that sucks the wraith out of Storybrooke.

Unfortunately, Emma is also sucked in and Snow White follows her, not wanting to lose her daughter a second time. They end up in a devastated land and join with the newly-awakened Princess Aurora (Sarah Bolger), Asian female warrior, Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Lancelot of Camelot (Sinqua Walls) to fight an immense ogre. Lancelot turns out to be Cora in disguise and she wants to get to Storybrooke to create even more havoc.

Cora joins up with Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). He became Captain Hook after Rumplestiltskin sliced off his hand with a sword (Sure why not, Hook called him a crocodile.), and hopes to use the remains of the magic wardrobe to add two more villains to an already beleaguered town. Confused yet? I told you that you’d need a scorecard. This is without mentioning Pinocchio (Jakob Davies) or Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) as the town psychiatrist, Doctor Archie Hopper.

Not only is this television show the most original concept in at least 20 years, it has excellent portrayals (Regina has my vote for most evil), great make-up jobs, costumes and sets, characters you can identify with and a well-written script. I can’t wait for next Sunday night to find out what happens next or who else will join the cast.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Dinner and a Movie

Looper from San Marino

By Steve Herte 

Looper (DMG Entertainment, 2012) Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, & Jeff Daniels. 

Suspend your scientific facts all who enter the theater! Although the opening monologue to Looper states, “time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be…” this movie goes beyond improbability right to temporal paradox. We definitely will find this title in the dictionary under “science fiction.”

 Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the part of a man named Joe whose job it is to kill and dispose of “criminals” from the future, sent through a time machine that is similarly constructed to a 1910-era diving bell to his year, 2044. Apparently, there is nowhere in 2074 to dump bodies (this is not explained), so they send them back in time (which is illegal, so it’s essentially a mob hit). His weapon of choice is a “Blunderbuss” (another anachronism) which is a tricked-out, army-issued telescope you just aim and shoot – it emits a loud, thudding sound and powerful blast, and the victim is dispatched in one shot. You roll him over to retrieve your pay for the hit in silver bars packed into a backpack strapped to his shoulders. (Does any of this remind you of Judas?) You celebrate the “closing of a loop” at a local bar and get your next assignment and its location.

Our main character (and several others of his time) is addicted to an unnamed drug that is induced through eye-drops. That, and the weapon are the only futuristic gimmicks (aside from the time travel machine itself) in the film. People who think vulgarity is funny will be delighted that 30 years into the future they still haven’t found a new word to replace f***. A Looper knows his own loop is going to be closed when the future thugs send themselves back – enter Bruce Willis, Joe plus 30 years – and on his back are gold bars instead of silver. The Looper then has 30 years left to live it up, unless, of course, he lets the target run. Bruce pops out of the time portal, turns his back to himself, the gold protects him from the Blunderbuss’ blast; he throws something at young Joe, knocks him out and runs.

From then on, Bruce tries to redirect young Joe’s life to avoid the future. He tells him of a mob boss called simply “The Rainmaker” (a super-telekinetic Capo-di-tutti-capi), who is responsible for the hapless time travelers. Bruce figures out that there were three children born in 2044 who could possibly grow up to be this character and he intends to kill all three to change the future. Meanwhile, in his race to escape the other Loopers trying kill him for failing his latest job, young Joe finds and endears himself to Sara (Emily Blunt), the mother of Cid (Pierce Gagnon), the exact child Bruce wants to kill.

At this point, a cheerleader’s head would be spinning. It’s an interesting movie with good acting jobs by the main characters (although Gordon-Levitt vacillates between good and wooden). It also boasts impressive stage sets (Shanghai is amazing in 2044!), some good special effects, and a non-intrusive musical soundtrack (you know it’s there but you don’t remember it). Bruce looks and acts better than ever, even though he’s played this character over and over. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is well cast to be his younger self, right down to the squinty eyes.

Spoiler alert: at the end of the movie, young Joe sees Sara’s point and has a view of the future old Joe didn’t and he turns the Blunderbuss on himself and dies, causing old Joe to disappear. We however, must only guess that the future is saved. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

San Marino Soho
66 Charlton Street (Varick), New York

This self-described “Ristorante elegante” caught my attention with the photo of the main dining room on its website. The deep cherry-wood and glass walls and peaked glass ceiling with a beautiful, complex glass chandelier mysteriously suspended from it immediately caught my eye. Located in the Four Points Hotel by Sheraton, I almost missed it when walking by. The somewhat narrow bar is set back from the sidewalk behind an outdoor café and leads to the Captain’s station. From there it opens up to the bar dining area and farther to the main room, and a short left to the private party room. I was seated under the central chandelier and had a good view of the entire space. The upper wall leading to the private room is crowned with a beautiful mural depicting a large Italian family at dinner. A party of four was dining to my left.

After assuring me that the bar had Beefeater’s gin, Miguel, my waiter, cordially took my martini order and gave me the menu. Shortly after it arrived a younger server brought the breadbasket containing three different breads – all slightly less than fresh – two wrapped pats of butter and an attractive bottle of spicy olive oil. This made the bread a lot better. The martini was very nice. The wine list featured several affordable and choice wines. I chose a 2010 Malbec from Mendoza vineyards to accompany my meal.

The menu is divided into Appetizers, Salads (Insalata), Soups, Pastas, and Main Courses and had several enticing dishes, including a favorite of mine, Saltimboca ala Romana. However, I wanted to try something unique. Miguel advised me of the specials, a double-cut veal chop which was impressive from his description and a Tuna dish. He also assured me that half-orders of pasta were available. So, I decided to make it a “mushroom night.” The wild Portobello Mushroom appetizer with Buffalo Mozzarella melted perfectly on top and drizzled with juices from the Portobello as well as Truffle Oil. They were a little smaller than I’m accustomed to but they were juicy and full-flavored and, as it turned out the perfect size for an appetizer.

The Ravioli della Nonna stuffed with fresh ground veal and in a lovely Morel (the American truffle) cream sauce was definitely erotic, especially mounded with freshly-shaved parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The bread helped finish every drop.

My main course, Scaloppini Al Marsala con Tre Tipe de Funghi (the first word misspelled in the title on the menu), was an excellent dish. The veal was pounded flat and tender, and as well as being juicy, it was literally invisible under a blanket of sliced shiitake, crimini and Portobello mushrooms in a wonderful Marsala wine sauce. Flanking the veal were three quarter-potato slices deep fried and crispy that helped to get every drop of the sauce.

Now some may say that Tiramisu is the best Italian dessert, but it turns up too often and not just on Italian menus. My favorite is Zabaglione, but I didn’t let Miguel get to the end of the spoken dessert menu. When he said “Tartuffo” I knew what I wanted. Yes, it’s a simple vanilla and chocolate ice cream molded around a maraschino cherry and covered in chocolate, but I don’t often see it and I love it (especially when I don’t have to cut it open, as was this case).

The party of four had long since left so I enjoyed a double espresso and a nice glass of Port wine to finish a wonderful meal and wonder why San Marino isn’t packed on a Friday night. I also wondered how Miguel knew I was going to write a nice review.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 23-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

This is Cinema Inhabituel for the week of October 23-31, where we focus on movies either long forgotten or rarely shown, but interesting . . . always interesting.

It’s Halloween week on TCM and what better way to celebrate than with some rarely shown horror movies; the sort we never see anymore outside of TCM or our own DVDs. So take notes and enjoy as we go over the strangest of these forgotten films.

October 24

3:30 pm Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A. (Sack Amusement, 1946) – Director: Spencer Williams. Starring Francine Everett, Don Wilson, Kathrine Moore, Alfred Hawkins, and Boykin.

It’s extremely rare to see what were called “Race Pictures” on any channel. BET used to show them under the title of “Classic Black Films,” but they apparently have found it more profitable to use the time for reruns than history. The film is loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham’s short story, “Miss Sadie Thompson,” which has been done before by Hollywood with Gloria Swanson, and later under the title Rain, with Joan Crawford. The film was shot in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Dallas, Texas. The fact that this is a neglected part of Hollywood’s past makes it an essential and therefore worth one’s viewing time.

October 26

1:45 pm Call of the Jungle (Monogram, 1944) Director: Phil Rosen. Starring Ann Corio, James Bush, Claudia Dell, John Davidson, and Phil Van Zandt.

Monogram Studios, looking for any edge in the jungles of Hollywood, decided to star stripper Ann Corio in a South Seas adventure, of all things. She plays Tana, an islander who likes to hang out at the local tiki bar. Listen to her dialogue, for at times she speaks perfect English and at others goes in a patois of broken English. And if you think that’s bad, check out co-star James Bush, who is solving the case while playing the piano. It’s just another reason why this film should be checked out by cinephiles.

3:15 am Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (Automat Pictures, 2007) Director: Jeffrey Schwartz. With Joe Dante, Roger Corman, John Waters, Leonard Maltin, Marcel Marceau, and John Landis.

William Castle was the ultimate showman, as this excellent documentary attests. He sold his films to the public with the help of outrageous publicity gimmicks, whether it be life insurance for Macabre, flying skeletons across the stage for House on Haunted Hill, wired seats for The Tingler, or having the audience vote on the ending for Mr. Sardonicus. Joe Dante, who appears in the documentary, made an affectionate film about Castle in 1993 called Matinee.

October 27

3:15 pm Village of the Damned (MGM, 1960) Director: Wolf Rilla. Starring George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens, Michael Gwynn, and Laurence Naismith.

This excellent sci-fi thriller was the first about evil children from outer space sent here to conquer us all. It’s based on John Wyndham’s 1951 novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, one of the creepiest novels in the sci-fi genre. Fortunately for those that haven’t read it, the film is quite faithful in its own right, with Sanders and Shelley giving a performance for the ages. Check it out.

October 28

2:45 am (Nero Films, 1931) Director: Fritz Lang. Starring Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Grundgens, Theo Lingen, and Ellen Widmann.

The film that made Peter Lorre a star and one of the most unsettling movies ever made. It’s a sinister trek through the underbelly of society, as criminals band together to do what the police seemingly can’t: catch a notorious child-murderer. Originally titled Murders Among Us, the Nazi Party pressured the studio to change the title, lest the public make the connection. Lang pulls out all the stops to creep the audience out, including the use of Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King,” whenever the killer is stalking his prey. Don’t miss this one.

October 30

9:15 pm Freaks (MGM, 1932) Director: Tod Browning. Starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Rosco Ates, Henry Victor, and Harry Earles.

Eventually, the lure of his childhood was too great and Tod Browning was pulled in head over heels to the world of the carnival, a world in which he grew up. It’s a morality tale of greed and vengeance as the carnival freaks take matters into their own hands and mete out the justice required in their macabre world. The film features real sideshow performers from the carnival – the freaks of the title. If Browning was hoping for a hit, he was horribly wrong. The film sickened audiences and caused many of them to leave their seats. Pressure from critics and civic groups caused MGM to pull it from distribution and it languished unseen until it was revived for Midnight Shows in the ‘70s. It was also banned in England for many years. But it still had influence on other moviemakers. Witness Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1946) and Fellini’s La Strada (1954).

October 31

6:30 am London After Midnight (MGM, 1927) Director: Tod Browning. Starring Lon Chaney, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall, Percy Williams, and Conrad Nagel.

It’s one of the most famous of the lost films, having been destroyed in a fire at the MGM warehouse in the ‘60s. No known prints are known to survive and this feature was compiled from photos taken on the set and a complete continuity script. It’s worth watching at least once in the hope that a print of the movie is yet to be found.

4:00 pm The Devil Bat (PRC, 1941) Director: Jean Yarborough. Starring Bela Lugosi, Dave O’Brien, Suzanne Kaaren, Guy Usher, Donald Kerr, Edward Mortimer and Arthur Q. Bryan.

It’s one of Bela’s best and hammiest performances as a mad scientist who electrically enlarges ordinary bats to monster size and trains them to attack anyone doused with a special aftershave lotion he’s concocted. We know someone’s not long for the film when they tell Bela, “Well, Goodnight, Doc,” and he responds with “Good-bye” with all the slow pauses he can muster. It’s a wonderfully ridiculous film, and look for Arthur Q. Bryan as the editor of the newspaper that sends reporter Dave O’Brien, the nominal hero, to the scene. Bryan was the voice of Elmer Fudd in Warner Brothers cartoons. Many assume it was Mel Blanc as he was the only one that received credit, but that was due to the language of his contract, which stated that he should be the only one credited.

3:15 am Island of Lost Souls (Paramount, 1933) Director: Erle C. Kenton. Starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, and Kathleen Burke.

A truly creepy Pre-Code horror based on H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau and starring the one and only Charles Laughton as the crazed scientist who mutates animals into humans. He tries unsuccessfully to mate his panther woman (Burke) with shipwrecked sailor Edward Parker (Arlen) in one of the most unsettling scenes in the history of film. Though it was banned in England upon release, it remains as the best version of the novel to make the screen, really not much of a compliment when we consider the other versions. But TCM’s early morning scheduling of the movie proves the fact that this film still retains its punch. Look for Bela Lugosi in a minor role as one of Moreau’s creations, “The Sayer of the Law.”